The Irish Times: Some of the finest legal brains in Britain came to Brussels last week to defend the fundamental rights of the People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran (PMOI)

The Irish Times

By Jamie Smyth

European Diary: Some of the finest legal brains in Britain came to Brussels last week to defend the fundamental rights of the People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran (PMOI)

The PMOI was the armed resistance wing of the French-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, which renounced violence in June 2001. It has played a key role in uncovering the nuclear programme in Iran, publicly espouses democracy, and runs a television station aimed at generating public support to topple the Tehran regime. Yet the body is one of 104 organisations and individuals named on the EU “terror list”.

The list, which is compiled by EU states and maintained by the council in Brussels, outlaws and freezes the assets of each organisation named on it. Several Northern Irish terrorist groups such as the Real IRA, Continuity IRA and the Orange Volunteers are on the list, which was created in December 2001 as a response to September 11th. But concerns are growing among human and civil rights groups that Europe’s crackdown on terrorists is eroding basic fundamental rights in the union.

“The PMOI were given no warning that they were to be labelled terrorists, they were given no opportunity to comment, and were not told why they were put on the list,” said Lord Archer of Sandwell, a former British solicitor general. “Since they were put on the list there have been numerous appeals, for example by 2,000 practising lawyers in Britain and calls by MPs for a review . . . but the list still includes PMOI.”

The event in Brussels, where former solicitor general of Scotland, Lord Fraser of Carmylle, and former deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, Lord Russell Johnston, also spoke on behalf of PMOI, was organised to highlight a recent judgment by the European Court of First Instance (CFI). In a landmark decision in December, the CFI ruled that the EU’s decision to place PMOI on the list infringed its right to a “fair hearing, the obligation to state reasons and the right to effective judicial protection”.

The court annulled the council’s decision to freeze PMOI’s funds in Europe, which amount to $9 million (€7 million) in France alone, and stated that parties on the terror list must be informed of the specific information that led to their inclusion on the list.

Following the CFI decision it was widely expected that the PMOI would be removed from the list and its funds released. But the council has refused to do so, arguing the decision does not annul the new terror list compiled in May 2006, but instead refers specifically to an earlier terror list.

“Our position is that they did not challenge the right list,” said an EU official. “But we have taken into account the court decision by changing our procedures. We have now sent a statement of reason to PMOI outlining why they are on the list and will send similar letters to all other groups on the list.” The council will also in future allow proscribed organisations to appeal these decisions and provide supportive documentation to prove its case, he added.

This decision has drawn the ire of the PMOI, human rights lawyers and MEPs.

Fine Gael MEP Avril Doyle is one of about 20 MEPs to sign a petition accusing the council of “open defiance of the European courts”. “I think the council have acted in bad faith by not removing them from the list. If they want to put them back on the list, they could go through the process and give the group due process,” said Ms Doyle, who notes the council’s action has more to do with talks on Iran’s nuclear regime.

Mohammed Mohaddessin, chair of the foreign affairs committee of the PMOI, also has few doubts that EU states are wary of upsetting Iran during these sensitive talks.

“Last week the mullah’s supreme national security council held a top-secret session . . . [where] it was decided to put pressure on the EU to defy the court ruling and maintain the PMOI on the list,” he said. The politicisation of the terror list has long been a source of contention. For example the Palestinian group Hamas is on the list, whereas Hizbullah is not.

“There is no doubt that nothing occurs in a political vacuum in Brussels,” says Hugo Brady, analyst with the Centre for European Reform. “For example the IRA are not listed on the EU terror list, which is probably due to the peace talks . . . But I think what is important is that there is a transparent delisting procedure.”

Whether the council’s new procedures meet the court’s requirement remains to be seen. Since December 2001 just two organisations have been taken off the terror list and the statement of reason sent recently to PMOI, arguing why it should remain on the list, which has been seen by The Irish Times, contains no allegations of terrorist activity post-June 2001 – the date the PMOI renounced violence. Perhaps Britain’s best legal brains will be needed in Brussels again in a few months’ time.